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Short Back and Sides

By Mark Pembrey


This is a concept for a story, submitted for the upcoming Alt Brighton graphic novel project. Any feedback is appreciated.

The story is based around A. Cooper’s Ladies and Gents Hair Stylist in Brighton, where the notorious Mr Cooper cut hair from the late nineteen forties to the early noughties. Cooper was a war veteran who only knew one haircut—short back and sides styled with hair oil (or onion vinegar according to one customer). He berated and swore at his clients, never charged more than £1.20 a cut, and yet somehow managed to stay in business for over sixty years. Locals came to see a visit to Cooper’s as a “character building” experience, often dragging children along to be given the short back and sides. His quiet wife brought him sandwiches and his young son also appeared in the shop, apprenticed to do exactly the same haircut and constantly being shouted at for getting it wrong. Mr Cooper disliked long hair and “fucking hippies”. His complete resistance to change through the 60s and early 70s, an era when Brighton and the whole national consciousness altered around him, is what fascinates me and what I wish to make the crux of my story. In the following synopsis I have based some of the events around first hand accounts of Cooper and his life story. The protagonist/narrator, Danny, and his interaction with Cooper are fictional. There are many people still in Brighton who remember A. Cooper’s with a strange fondness, and if I develop this story I would like to contact them to discuss the idea and to get a better idea of the shop’s unique atmosphere.

The story begins with Danny’s nightmarish account of his first encounter as a child with A. Cooper’s, evoking the sights of terrifying dolls' heads in the window, the smells of cat piss and hair oil, and the angered voice of Mr Cooper. The narrative then cuts to many years later, when Danny, now a teenage hippy, is again drawn to the shop when the area around Baker Street has become a popular hangout. The teens treat Cooper like a witch, someone to be poked fun at but at the same time feared. As the decade wears on, we see our narrator go through the change from hippy to mod, occasionally being criticized by “square” Cooper. Cut to the 70s and Danny has once again changed fashion sense to fit with the times. One day as he passes the shop he notices something unusual (perhaps a light is not switched on or the shop is late opening—something that he notices only because he is so familiar with the shop and Cooper’s particular ways.) He enters to find Cooper lying on the floor, having electrocuted himself trying to use a new electric hair trimmer. He rushes him to hospital. In the ambulance and before going to sleep in his hospital bed the confused Cooper talks to Danny as if he believes he is his son, giving him a mixture of insults and kinder, sadder words. Cooper’s wife arrives. During conversation she tells Danny that their son died recently, drowned on a Spanish holiday that his father had opposed. Mr Cooper recovers and goes back to work, but Danny’s attitude towards him and what he stands for has altered. He realises that in his own way he too has been resisting change and that even the most radical fashions are sometimes just a resistance to growing up. The story ends with him asking Cooper for a short back and sides, although he then looks in the mirror and acknowledges that he will probably just get it cut again differently in a few weeks time. After all, why change?


This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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